This post was written in partnership with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Greater Than AIDS initiative
According to recent studies, one in three women experiences intimate partner violence (IPV). For women with HIV, it is one in two.
While IPV is a major issue for many women in the U.S., there is less discussion about the concerning connection with HIV. Women with an abusive partner are more likely to have forced and/or risky sex and may be less able to negotiate the use of protection, putting them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The depression that often accompanies abuse can make it harder for women living with HIV to keep up with medications or stay connected to care. For some, sharing one’s status may increase abuse or bring on violence.
In most cases, deciding to tell someone that you have HIV is a personal choice. However, in the case of sexual relationships, it is a legal requirement in many states. There is no one best way to tell someone. Similarly, there is no sure way to know how those you tell will react.
The Well Project, a leading organization supporting women living with HIV, has some advice for disclosing safely:
- Share your status with your partner before becoming intimate. If a person feels they were put at risk or lied to, the risk of violence may be greater.
- Choose a public place with many people around. Find a spot that is private enough to have a conversation, but public enough to get help if you need it.
- Consider having a friend with you.
- Bring your partner to meet with your health care provider.
To bring more awareness to this issue, The Hotline, the Well Project and several other organizations have partnered with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Greater Than AIDS initiative to launch Empowered: Women, HIV and Intimate Partner Violence. For this campaign, Tonya Lewis Lee, lawyer and women’s health advocate, moderated a conversation with five women living with HIV, all of whom have experienced abuse from a partner.
Their conversation explores issues like understanding risk, getting help, finding love again and strategies for staying healthy. Campaign materials such as posters, flyers and a discussion guide are available for download here.
We hope that this campaign brings wider awareness to this issue and lets women living with HIV in abusive relationships know that they are not alone, and that help is out there.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, we can help. Call The Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or chat here on our website daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central.
Today I am proud to announce that I have joined the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense, a new coalition founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions. This coalition brings together women leaders from across industries who share a commitment to combating gun violence and domestic abuse. In its work, the coalition will focus on advocating for action on commonsense laws that protect women and families from gun violence, and address the lethal links between access to guns and domestic violence. Our goals are to:
- Prevent stalkers and abusers from having easy access to guns;
- Close the background check loopholes in our federal laws that let felons and domestic abusers legally buy and own firearms; and,
- Strengthen existing laws and ensure lawmakers and stakeholders have the resources and training they need to prevent and address gun violence against women.
Firearms have always been part of the story of domestic violence and what abusive partners can do to their intimate partners. Women in the United States are eleven times more likely to be murdered by a gun than women in other high-income countries, and abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm. In 36 states, more than half of intimate partner-related homicides of women in each state involved a gun.
Our advocates hear shocking stories every day. What becomes clear from these stories is that firearms violence is not just about homicides. It is a tool that abusive partners use to control and torture their intimate partners. In our 2014 survey on the use of firearms in domestic violence situations, 67% of respondents believed their partner was capable of killing them, which creates enough fear to keep victims from leaving. Of the respondents whose partners had access to guns, more than 1 in 5 said their partners had threatened to use a firearm to hurt the victims, their children, pets or other family members.
Knowing these numbers, and with other instances of gun violence continually in the headlines, the time for action is now. We need everyone in the community – including employers – to be aware of this deadly issue and understand how they have a role to play, whether they are a business or faith leader, someone who provides housing in the community, someone who provides financial assistance, or someone who is a good friend or work colleague willing to support the survivor as she tries to deal with the violence.
If there were a rash of burglaries or muggings in our communities, we’d be advocating for police and the courts to take action. Firearms violence in intimate partner relationships is another crime that we shouldn’t accept as something that just happens.
We can change this. We can help victims become survivors. We can’t afford to do nothing. We need to act now.
Learn how you can get involved at Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Katie Ray-Jones is the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and loveisrespect.
One of the defining moments in my career happened just a few short months ago. I was speaking to a group of young women in college about healthy relationships and how to recognize the signs of dating abuse. The conversation became a little personal, and I began talking about a past relationship. While the relationship was not abusive, my partner exhibited unhealthy relationship behaviors. By telling my story, I opened the door for the women in the room to share their own to stories and support each other.
After the event, one of the women approached me and thanked me for being honest about my relationship. What stood out for me wasn’t the fact that she thanked me. It was that she said that I looked like I had the “perfect” life and wouldn’t be the “type” of person who would be in an unhealthy relationship. That single moment showed me the power of sharing our stories.
By openly talking about domestic violence and dating abuse, we can dispel the myth that there is a “type” of person who experiences abuse. Domestic violence does not discriminate. It affects all types of people – no matter their race, gender, age, education or income. There is not one “type” of domestic violence victim or survivor. Every situation is unique.
Also, when we speak out, we are acknowledging that domestic violence is a widespread issue that affects every community. Seeing a story play out every once in a while in the media can make it seem like domestic violence doesn’t happen that often. Well, it does. Domestic violence affects more than 12 million people each year in the U.S. With so many people in our country affected by abuse, we can begin to see the real and urgent need to expand resources, education and prevention efforts.
Finally, sharing our stories helps other victims and survivors feel less alone. Talking more openly about our experiences, when we feel safe doing so, might encourage others to come forward and find support. After all, abuse is never the victim’s fault, and no one ever deserves to be abused. The only person to blame is the person who chooses to be abusive. When we as a society understand this, we will go a long way in helping to erase the shame and blame that can keep victims and survivors from seeking help.
Today, and every day, I am committed to speaking out about healthy relationships, domestic violence and my own experiences. I hope you will join me and share how you #SeeDV with your friends, family, classmates and coworkers. By doing so, we can work together to create a society that doesn’t stay silent about domestic violence or ask why a victim would stay in an abusive relationship. We can shift the conversation and eventually create a world where domestic violence doesn’t exist.
Cameka Crawford is the chief communications officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline and its youth-focused program, loveisrespect. For more than a decade, she has been committed advancing the communications and marketing efforts for corporate and nonprofit organizations.